World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format  Article citation        

Are We Prepared?: Primary Sources in State World History Standards and the Common Core State Standards Initiative

Thomas W. Barker and Joseph O'Brien


     The widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative's (CCSS) by nearly all the states and the resulting public discussion that has now caused some states to now reject them begs the question of whether existing state standards support a curriculum that utilizes primary sources and how well the identified sources promote the use of discipline-specific literacy. The CCSS focus on the development of literacy skills within the social studies/history classroom means that states will need to design a curriculum that implements this focus of the CCSS. Little research exists on high school world history standards related to the use of primary sources and it is yet to early to gain a sense of the trends that states and district are implementing relative to the CCSS and social studies standards. As states consider how to align their world history standards with CCSS, we thought it critical to help fill this gap. In so doing, we undertook a content analysis of each state's world history standards to assess what primary sources and/or related events states recommend using and what the curriculum implications were.

What is the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

In short, working with K-16 educators nationwide, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have developed a set of standards for mathematics and one for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects. NGA Center and CCSSO have future plans to create a set of standards for history/social studies and science. Many see the CCSS as being a more rigorous set of standards than what some states currently demand and a way to allow for more uniformity to exist between various states. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia initially adopted the CCSS and many are in the process of revising their current state standards to align with them. The portion of the CCSS as it relates to world history is found in the section Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects. Here the primary focus is not on historical content, but rather on developing literacy skills, because a crucial aspect of history is for students "to be able to analyze, evaluate, and differentiate primary and secondary sources."1

     In addition to the standards there is an appendix, Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks, which contains a list of primary sources and other texts to consider using when implementing the standards. The Text Exemplars are meant: "to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with" and to "serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms," but "do not represent a partial or complete reading list."2 These lists of texts denote four types of text to be used in the English language arts (ELA) classroom: stories, drama, poetry and informational text. Those texts to be used in social studies classrooms are identified as informational texts. These texts listed are largely secondary works, like David McCullough's 1776 and Mark Kurlansky's Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, while the informational texts related to ELA are closer to what might appear in a social studies classroom, like King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." Regardless, only about five of these works would perhaps be used in a secondary world history classroom. This raises an interesting question: If a key aspect of history education is to develop literacy skills and the CCSS lacks guidance on the type of sources to be implemented in the world history classroom, then what do state standards suggest using in the classroom?

Why Learn World History?

Historians and history educators have offered several reasons for learning history. Some describe human beings as "historical creatures" that desire insight into the historical past of others and ourselves.3 Others state that by looking into the past and being engaged in critical historical thinking, adolescents can be inspired to deal with today's problems by gaining "insights from the past."4 Learning history then "help[s] students develop the knowledge, skills and values that will enable them to become effective citizens."5 Simply put, we learn history in order to learn about ourselves and to engage civically and personally with the issues that confront our time and place.

     While related, the reasons for learning world history are distinct from those for history in general and U.S. history in particular. The World History for Us All Website draws this critical difference between U.S. and world history: "National history teaches us what is distinctive about a particular land and people. World history throws light on the distinctive characteristics of human beings and how their thought, behavior, and interactions have changed over time."6 While national history often seeks to promote a nation's heritage, as Marshall Hodgson states, world history is not "merely the sum of separate histories of the nation or regions of the world, no more than European history is the sum of separate histories of the European nations."7 This wider conviction that individuals and nations are part of a larger whole is a crucial aspect of world history, and particularly important for students as they move from adolescence into young adulthood and are expected to become civically and politically engaged. Jerry Bentley states that world history allows students to "confront the phenomenon of globalization and situate it in historical context by conceiving and explaining the largest patterns in the experience of human beings on planet earth," they can "learn to understand the concerns of other peoples, to recognize their legitimate interests in the larger world, and to demand that their political leaders engage constructively with other peoples in the interests of resolving tensions, avoiding conflicts, and negotiating policies and practices that are generally fair in a world full of divergent interests."8 In building upon Bentley's argument the concern is that adolescents need to understand how the national is linked to the global, which can lead to a citizenry that knows and cares about contemporary affairs in the world.9 If world history provides a different type of history than U.S. history, then an assumption would be that state world history standards would support this notion.

World History Standards

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was intended to strengthen Title I accountability by requiring that states test mathematics and English language arts in the hope that this would increase student proficiency in these subject areas. With the key education policy within the past decade focusing on teacher accountability and assessment, world history standards have become more cumbersome, while at the same time the number of states requiring and testing in world history has also increased.10

     Several studies have noted that in places were social studies has not been part of state and district assessments that instructional time has decreased to focus more on tested subjects, and when it is assessed has become a study of memorizing facts and not developing critical thinking skills.11 In states and districts where testing puts a lot of pressure on teachers, standards had more of an influence on instructional decisions then pedagogical choices with teachers not only realigned their instruction to follow state standards, but also made changes to their pedagogical approaches and attitudes relative to their classes.12 This has led to debates about the content and creation of social studies standards, as evident by the publicity surrounding how Florida's legislature chose to define U.S. history and what the Texas Board of Education decided to incorporate in the U.S. and world history standards.

     Based on an analysis of state world history standards, Walter Mead concluded that world history standards lacked substance since they provided little historical content, were a "unrealistic hodgepodge" of everything with no set focus, were Eurocentric, and failed to treat world history as a coherent subject.13 In 2010, Michael Marino and Jane Bolgatz analyzed twenty-three sets of state world history standards to "determine the content that recurs most often and what topics dominated the standards as a whole."14 They concluded that the standards were: content heavy; the period between 1500 to 1945 is defined through the "lens of Europeans"; and, the more frequently mentioned non-Western content after 1945 is typically "taken out of historical context."15

     In trying to understand why a European narrative persists within states' standards, Ross E. Dunn contends that there are two types of world histories, which confront one another in the pedagogical realm.16 The first of these is what Dunn calls Arena A, which is largely dominated by academic historians and those involved with AP World History. These individual are largely interested in exploring the connections and patterns of the past without being confined to a particular nation or civilization.17 The second is Arena B, which is divided into two camps: 1) those who advocate for a Western heritage approach to social studies that highlights the roots of American society; and 2) those who advocate for a social studies that emphasizes multicultural tolerance and empathy and portrays America as a gathering of people with different backgrounds from all over the world.18 Dunn concludes that the state standards then share three distinct characteristics that reflect the different priorities of state standard setters: 1) while content from non-Western regions is incorporated in the standards, historical processes that transcend geographic boundaries are very rarely mentioned; 2) content before 1500 emphasizes the varied achievements of earlier civilizations, but after 1500 the narrative focuses explicitly on Europe; and 3) the authors of these standards largely reflect the interests of Arena B and possessed little knowledge about "lively and path-breaking world historical scholarship."19

Using Primary Sources

Students' understanding of and ability to use primary sources is critical to learning to think historically, which makes learning how to approach such sources critical to the project of teaching world history.20 Learning to differentiate between types of texts, for example, can aid comprehension of primary sources as text types are "organized in certain ways…such as narratives in our culture [which] have a basic exposition–complication-resolution structure."21 Since history is so content rich students need to know how to comprehend several types of text-based primary sources: expository texts, which focus specifically on providing information; narrative texts, which primarily entertain a reader by telling a story; persuasive writings, which focus on changing the authors mind on a topic; and, prose sources, such as news stories and brochures.22 Before students can effectively master the content of the source, it is critical that they grasp their different purpose and format.

     Until recently literacy teaching at the secondary level has not focused on specific subject areas, which has resulted in the use of "relatively simple and generic strategy solutions for the teaching of complex content-area topics, purposes and goals."23 In contrast, discipline literacy in history "requires students to think analytically and critically about the contexts in which texts or ideas were produced" and an understanding of "disciplinary knowledge—knowledge of the way information is created, shared, and evaluated for quality."24 Since historical reasoning involves realizing historical accounts are representations of the past, students need to learn how to source, contextualize and corroborate primary sources. Since using sources enables students to gain insight into factors informing an author, they need to engage with sources where the author's perspective is readily apparent.25 Students must possess accurate and sufficient prior knowledge to contextualize a source. Finally, and this is a critical rejoinder to those who object to emphasis upon skills over content in the social studies classroom, students learn significantly more historical content when they "read multiple texts and learned the heuristics" than when they "read multiple texts and were taught the historical content."26 By using multiple sources, students not only realize that there is more than one perspective on any historical event, but it allows them to corroborate what they learn from sources, by juxtaposing competing narratives of the past.

     Though the content portions of the standards themselves are important in pedagogical application, primary sources are one of the central means by which students are engaged in historical inquiry. If using primary sources is key to historical understanding and thinking, then learning what sources states consider important for use in the classroom can offer insights both into the content students are to learn and the comprehension challenges that are raised by such sources. Furthermore, the sources that state standards suggest demonstrate the historical narrative and perspective that students will likely take away from the class, and that the authors of those standards consider most critical.

Research questions

The primary sources identified in state standards can offer insight into what type(s) of world history states expect students to be engaged in. We operated on the assumption that given the limited instructional time and the literacy demands placed upon teachers, as evident by the CCSS, teachers most easily could justify use of primary sources now listed in the state standards. Based on this we focused on three questions during our study:

1. What specific reference is made in the secondary world history state standards to primary sources and/or related events?

2. What periods and regions are represented by the primary sources found within the standards?

3. What are the curricular implications of teaching the primary sources and/or related events in secondary world history courses?

Research Methodology

During the Summer of 2011, we collected world history standards from all fifty states and the District of Columbia by accessing the various department of education websites and using the standards they provide online. Once the standards were collected we conducted a content analysis of the world history standards at both the middle/junior and high school level to see what specific primary sources were explicitly mentioned. This means that only those primary sources that were listed by name were recorded. We then came to a final agreement of 131 different primary sources found in the standards. However, it is important to note that New York listed fifty different primary sources that were not listed in any other state's standards. Because of this New York was removed from the study, since we did not want one state to overly influence our analysis of the time periods and geographic regions represented in the state standards. In addition, twenty states did not list any primary sources within their standards. Because of the lack of primary sources related to world history in the CCSS exemplars, as we have previously indicated, a content analysis of that document would provide no insights into the type of world history or curriculum implications of the CCSS.

     Given the above and since states provided little guidance on whether to address the Treaty of Versailles solely as an event and/or to use parts of the treaty to learn about the formal ending of World War I we based our study on two assumptions. First, given limited instructional time and increasing insistence on literacy development, the use of the listed primary sources best enables teachers to align their instruction with the standards, which is not to suggest that teachers would not use other sources. Second, the sources and related events reflected what states thought was most important for students to learn about world history, and often expected teachers to address with their students. Unquestionably, many experienced and knowledgeable teachers daily decide how to adhere to state standards. While we certainly are not suggesting that teachers literally translate state standards into instruction, we do think that they represent what state education policymakers have deemed important for students to learn about world history.

     Because the CCSS only categorizes the primary sources related to social studies as informational text, we used the four text types mentioned earlier: expository, narrative, persuasive, and prose texts to better understand the genres of primary sources that we would find. However, we also concluded that some sources might not rely upon one specific text type, but rather might reflect a combination. In dealing with potential hybrids we were open to the possibility that this might require creating other text type category (ies) in helping to classify those sources found within the standards.



Thirty states and the District of Columbia listed at least one primary source within their secondary world history standards. However, eleven states only listed one primary source within their standards as indicated by Figure 1. The states that listed the most primary sources in their standards, Massachusetts (33), Virginia (29), California (19), District of Columbia (19), and Alabama (12), were typically those that were content heavy and divided their world history courses between two grade levels. The number of sources listed by states was surprising, in that in previous research we conducted on the U.S. standards states typically listed more primary sources than what was found in the world

Figure 1: Number of Sources Mentioned by Each State

States   Number of Primary Sources
9 or More Sources (5 States)    
Alabama   12
California   19
District of Columbia   19
Massachusetts   33
Virginia   29
4 – 8 Sources (6 States)    
Arizona   7
Arkansas   4
Ohio   6
South Dakota   4
Tennessee   8
Texas   5
1 – 3 Sources (19 States)    
Connecticut   1
Georgia   2
Indiana   2
Kansas   2
Kentucky   1
Maryland   3
Michigan   1
Minnesota   1
Mississippi   2
Missouri   1
Nebraska   2
New Jersey   1
New Mexico   1
North Carolina   1
North Dakota   1
Oregon   1
South Carolina   3
Washington   2
West Virginia   1

history standards. In addition, many sources were only mentioned by one specific state. Overall there were a total of eighty-one different primary sources found within the standards, with forty-eight of these sources only mentioned once in all of the standards. Figure 2 provides a list of those primary sources that were listed by at least four states.

Figure 2: Top Primary Sources in World History Standards

Source   Frequency and % of States Mentioning Source
Magna Carta   14 (46.7%)
Hammurabi's Law Code   10 (33.3%)
Treaty of Versailles   10 (33.3%)
English Bill of Rights   8 (26.7%)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights   8 (26.7%)
U.S. Constitution   5 (16.7%)
U.S. Declaration of Independence   5 (16.7%)
U.S. Bill of Rights   4 (13.3%)
Iliad   4 (13.3%)
Justinian Code   4 (13.3%)
Qur'an   4 (13.3%)
The Odyssey   4 (13.3%)
The Republic   4 (13.3%)

While a European/Western focus was anticipated, what was interesting was the number of U.S. related primary sources included in world history standards. The Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were some of the top sources indicated by states. However, other U.S. related primary sources, like the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments were included in Alabama's standards, and Wilson's Fourteen Points referenced by California, the District of Columbia, and Ohio, were also among American documents world history students are asked to know. While we recognize that the most often reference documents from the U.S. past were only mentioned by four or five states, the fact that they are in the top ten most often referenced sources for world history standards, suggests that states recommending the use of sources such as the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights sought to situate these documents in a wider Western/European centered narrative as a vehicle to explain the development of the U.S. government and American democratic institutions.

Sources by Content

In trying to further understand the focus of potential curriculum and the place of primary sources within the historical narrative, we took we took the list of eighty-one documents and put them in chronological order as noted by Figure 3. In looking at this list of

Figure 3: Primary Sources in Chronological Order

BCE Documents (19 total)    
The Instruction of Ptahhotep (circa 25th Century BCE)   Ramayana (circa 5th Century BCE)
Hammurabi's Law Code (circa 1700   Twelve Tables of Rome (circa 450 BCE)
Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (circa 1650 BCE)   History of the Peloponnesian War (circa BCE 5th Century BCE)
Mahabharata (circa 9th to 8th century BCE)   Pericles' Funeral Oration (circa 5th Century BCE)
Iliad (circa 8th century BCE)   The Republic (circa 380 BCE)
Odyssey (circa 8th century BCE)   Politics (circa 300 BCE)
Aesop's Fables (circa 620-560 BCE)   Aeneid (29-19 BCE)
Bhagavad Gita (circa 5th Century BCE)   Torah (BCE)
The Bible (begins in BCE)   Ten Commandments (BCE)
    Hebrew Bible (BCE)
0 CE - 1000 CE (3 total)    
Justinian Code (529 - 534)   Qur'an (632)
The New Testament (circa 150)    
1000 - 1500 CE (2 total)    
The Tale of Genji (circa 11th Century)   Magna Carta (1215)
1500 CE - 1600 CE (6 total)    
The Praise of Folly (1511)   Commentaries (1517)
Utopia (1516)   The Prince (1532)
The Ninety-Five Theses (1517)   Edict of Nantes (1598)
1600 - 1700 CE (7 total)    
Don Quixote (1605, 1615)   Bill of Rights - English (1689)
Petition of Rights (1628)   Two Treatises of Government (1689)
Areopagitica (1644)   Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690)
The Leviathan (1651)    
1700 - 1800 CE (11 total)    
The Spirit of the Laws (1748)   U.S. Constitution (1787)
Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (1755)   Bill of Rights - US (1789)
The Social Contract (1762)   Declaration of the Rights of Man and the On Citizen (1789)
Election to Parliament speech (1766)   Rights of Man (1791)
The Wealth of Nations (1776)   Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776)    
1800 - 1900 CE (11 total)    
Napoleonic Code (1804)   On Liberty (1859)
The Liberty of the Ancients Compared With that of the Moderns (1819)   Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
Jewish Disabilities, speech (1833)   13th Amendment (1864)
Communist Manifesto (1848)   Das Kapital (1867)
Realpolitik (1853)   14th Amendment (1868)
    15th Amendment (1869)
1900 - 1950 CE (10 total)    
Zimmerman Note (1917)   All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
Fourteen Points (1918)   September 1, 1939 (1939)
Treaty of Versailles (1919)   England, Our England (1941)
19th Amendment (1920)   Iron Curtain Speech (1946)
Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928)   Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
1950 – Present (12 Total)    
Two Concepts of Liberty (1958)   Lech Walesa's Nobel Peace Prize Lecture (1983)
Statement at Rivonia Trial (1964)   Latin American: The Democracy Option (1987)
Strategic Arm Limitation Treaty (1972)   In Good Faith (1989)
Peace, Progress, and Human Rights (1975)   Human Rights in China (1989)
The Fifth Modernization (1978)   Arab Human Development Report for the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (2002)
The Power of the Powerless (1978)    
An Open Letter to Citizen Mobutu Sese Seko (1980)    

documents it becomes apparent that these documents focus on a largely legal/political narrative of Western/European history. While we recognize how the lack of sources makes drawing any generalizations difficult, we can place the sources the states have identified within existing literature that already suggests a Western/European focus.

This European/Western focus begins within the BCE Era where there are nineteen documents listed by states, half of them relating to Ancient Greece or Rome. As the story of humanity moves into the Common Era from 0 – 1500 CE, only five primary sources are mentioned. While from 1500 – 1950 CE forty-seven documents appear in this 450-year period, which coincides with Marino and Bolgatz content analysis of world history standards.27 Those documents dating from 1950 – Present provide a different sort of narrative in that they focus largely on the development of democracy outside of the West. However, all of these documents except for the Strategic Arm Limitation Treaty are part of the Massachusetts state standards.

Sources by Text Type

Examining the sources by text type we found that three of the four text types were present in state standards: expository, narrative, and persuasive. However, many of these texts, those representing basic texts in the development of political philosophy or religious foundation texts, did not fit easily in the four categories of texts. Political philosophy texts were those that were a hybrid of expository and persuasive texts that typically focused on the basis and rationale of political organization(s). Religious foundations texts were those texts that were some combination of expository, narrative, persuasive, and prose, that highlighted theological principles of major religions. Ultimately, the sources fell into one of these five text types as indicated by Figure 4.

Figure 4: Sources by Texts Type

Expository Texts (26 Total) Narrative Texts (12 Total)

Hammurabi Code Iliad

Twelve Tablets of Rome Odyssey

Justinian Code History of the Peloponnesian War

The Instruction of Ptahhotep Aeneid

Rhind Mathematical Papyrus The Tale of Genji

Magna Carta The Praise of Folly

Ninety-Five Theses Utopia

Edict of Nantes Don Quixote

Petition of Rights All Quiet on the Western Front

English Bill of Rights England, Your England

Wealth of Nations September 1, 1939

U.S. Declaration of Independence Aesop's Fables

U.S. Constitution

U.S. Bill of Rights

13th Amendment Religious Foundation Texts (10 Total)

14th Amendment Mahabharata

15th Amendment Bhagavad Gita

19th Amendment Ramayana

Napoleonic Code Torah

Emancipation Proclamation Hebrew Bible

Zimmerman Note Qur'an

Treaty of Versailles Ten Commandments

Kellogg-Briand Pact The Bible

Universal Declaration of Human New Testament

Strategic Arm Limitation Treaty Commentaries Rights

Arab Human Development Report

Declaration of the Rights of Man

and the Citizen

Political Philosophy Texts (16 Total) Persuasive Texts (17)

The Republic Pericles' Funeral Oration

On Liberty Areopagitica

Discourse on the Origin and Foundations Rights of Man

of Inequality On Election to Parliament Speech

The Prince Vindication of the Rights of Women

The Leviathan Iron Curtain Speech

Second Treatise of Civil Government Statement at Rivonia Trial

The Spirit of the Laws Fourteen Points

Two Treatises of Government Jewish Disabilities Speech

The Social Contract Two Concepts of Liberty

The Spirit of the Laws Peace, Progress, and Human Rights

The Power of the Powerless The Fifth Modernization

The Social Contract In Good Faith

Communist Manifesto Lech Walesa's Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

Das Kapital An Open Letter to Citizen to Citizens

The Liberty of the Ancients Compared Mobutu Sese Seko

with that of the Moderns Human Rights in China

Realpolitk Latin American: The Democracy Option

Approximately one-third (26) of all sources found within the standards were classified as expository, while closely related political philosophy sources accounted for an additional sixteen documents. The large number of these types of sources makes sense especially when placed within the context of the legal/political narrative privileged by most state standard setters. In addition, though some states did include narrative type text largely in the form of literature, many of these sources were only listed by one state, the Iliad and Odyssey being the exception. Though we anticipated that many of the sources we would find would be text based, we were surprised that other forms of media--works of art, music, architecture or film--were not found in any of the state standards.


The virtual lack of identifiable primary sources in most state world history standards proved most surprising. While we realize that many states provide teachers with instructional support, such as resource guides, we expected primary sources to be a more integral part of state standards. On the one hand, states are specific about the content students are to learn, but on the other hand suggest that the sources of such content are of secondary importance. This raises interesting questions about states' ability to align existing high world history standards with the CCSS.

Due to the lack of primary sources and the CCSS's focus on the importance of literacy, we also investigated if there was a relationship between the primary sources and the skills related to the use of primary sources in the state standards. We discovered that there was little to no relation. States like Colorado and Oregon, which address discipline-specific literacy skills related to the use of primary sources in their standards, were no more likely to identify specific primary sources than states, like Minnesota, that failed to list any.

While it was interesting to see what sources were included within standards, what was of even more interest was what was not included in the standards. For example, while non-European peoples were frequently included in state standards content, there was a complete absence of primary source material from Africa, South America and the majority of Asia prior to 1950. In addition, though Tennessee mentioned the Mahabharata and Ramayana and California referenced the Bhagavad Gita, sources related to other non-Western religions or philosophies, specifically Buddhism and Confucianism, are absent from state standards. If one considers that the majority of states divide the world history curriculum between two grade levels typically at 1500 it is surprising that more sources from this earlier period detailing the development and rise of civilizations and their cultural achievements and contributions are not included. This was especially interesting since Dunn defined this as one of the three main characteristics of world history standards.28 However, the curriculum implication is that state standards only require students to focus Ancient Greece and Rome as a vehicle for explaining the later development of Europe.

In addition to the relative absence of material from other parts of the world, is a similar inattention to primary sources from the beginning of the common era to 1500 C.E. Only five sources produced during this era are listed among the primary documents to be employed in world history classrooms. The state standards thus perpetuate the view that medieval Europe produced little of intellectual and economic significance, thereby perpetuating the notion of a European "Dark Age." Corresponding to this European Dark Age, and perhaps as a foil to the standard narrative, state standards acknowledge, if only briefly, in their inclusion of the Qu'ran and The Tale of Genji, developments outside of Europe against which Europe's own disarray stands in contrast.

Also missing from the standards were sources that dealt with European interactions with states and societies from other parts of the world. Sources engaging European exploration and colonization were not present in the state standards' identified primary sources. This observation supports Dunn's contention that processes that transcend regional boundaries are largely absent from state standards for world history. Yet, if one of the central arguments for the teaching of world history is to focus on interconnectivity and cross-cultural interaction then the absence of sources describing such processes and interaction suggests that state standards have not been largely driven by an insistence on exploring such interactions. Having sources that would focuses on cross-cultural exchanges would also mean an increase in the number of narrative type texts, for example, traveler's tales as well. As these types of texts are indicative of a story, it would allow students to perhaps evaluate different perspectives and to think of historical events more critically.

In addition, because the CCSS failed to differentiate effectively between different text types, we employed Weaver & Kintsch's classification system of text types. This, however, also proved to be problematic. Typically classification systems used to organize text types relate specifically to general literacy, but in many ways historical texts do not easily fit into these categories. This is especially true of religious texts like the Holy Bible or Bhagavad Gita, which combine multiple literary genres. The CCSS, however, characterizes all social studies type texts as informational text in that these works are to provide information about a historical period. However, Neil Duke & Susan Bennett-Armistead state that "biographical, procedural text, nonfiction narrative . . . [are] not the same as informational text," which would be representative of the majority of texts that students would use in a world history class.29 In some ways this denotes problems with the CCSS and state standards in that the focus is on general literacy skills and not discipline-specific literacy skills. As Mark Conley denotes this is why secondary teachers are provided with "relatively simple and generic strategy solutions" when dealing with content-area related topics.30

In many ways developing curriculum that focuses on different types of text to be included in the curriculum can be helpful. Using fiction or poetry that is representative of the period can help teach about the cultural characteristics of a period. But, an over reliance on a specific type of text can perhaps lead to a limited understanding of historical concepts and perspective. Though we defined the majority of texts as expository, persuasive and political philosophy type texts, a reliance on these types of text does limit the viewpoint of a student. As mentioned above the inclusion of more personal accounts is but a start. The addition of non-text based primary sources, like art, photographs, music, architecture and video, could also allow students to gain a better understanding of a period and themes that transcend geographical boundaries by denoting similarities and differences in the meaning and form of these different non-textual, but primary sources.

When taken collectively, state world history standards are largely dominated by Western/European related sources. Though Marino and Bolgatz note that the world is seen through the "lens of Europe", our analysis of the primary sources in world history standards shows that the world is not seen through the eyes of Europe, but rather Europe comprises the world.31 Our analysis not only indicated that a majority of the sources not only related to Europe, but indirectly applied to a history of democracy in general and more specifically to a narrative which privileged the unfolding of an American historical drama. As Dunn states, not only is it apparent that those in Arena B are largely creating the standards, but those who advocate for a Western/European approach to denote roots of American society is also readily apparent.32 This begs the question do states see world history as a course that focuses on human interconnectivity or as a story that sets the stage for the American narrative? The answer seems to be that for the majority of states the latter is true, especially when one considers the type of sources found within the standards.


As an educator who teaches in the secondary classroom and a faculty member responsible for training future secondary social studies teachers, the CCSS has started to shape our curriculum and the training of future teachers as our state has implemented curriculum and assessments that are highly influenced by the CCSS. As other states and districts take steps to implement the CCSS within their own curriculums and focus more on implementing the literacy skills highlighted by the CCSS, a key issue will be including primary sources within those curriculums. Based on an analysis of the types of primary sources already referenced within state world history standards, states seem ill-prepared to create a curriculum that demonstrates an understanding of the world, and not just Europe. Additionally, based on our analysis of the standards the implication is that the wider rationale for teaching world history at the secondary level is to make claims about the roots of American democracy, rather than the interconnectedness of humanity.

Though previous research has indicated this point, the fact that CCSS provides primary and secondary source exemplars that are largely only applicable to an American history course makes it unlikely that states will move away from the existing paradigm for world history evident in state standards. Though we are optimistic that perhaps this trend can be reversed, we have already started to see it develop within our own state.

Thomas W. Barker is a Ph.D. Candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Kansas and teaches 7th grade social studies at South Middle School in Lawrence, KS. He is currently working on his dissertation entitled, Understanding Multilevel Citizenship in Rural Adolescents. Tom currently serves as the Treasurer for the Midwest World History Association. He can be reached at

Joseph O'Brien is Associate Professor of Curriculum and Teaching at the University of Kansas. He currently is working on the use of primary sources by secondary U.S. history teachers to promote discipline-specific literacy and the use of historical empathy to foster historical thinking. He can be reached at


1 Common Core State Standards Initiative, "Common Core Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects," accessed July 12th, 2012,

2 Common Core State Standards Initiative, "Common Core Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects; Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks," p. 2; accessed July 12th, 2012,

3 David Lowenthal, "Dilemmas and Delights of Learning History," in P. Sterns, P. Seixas, & S. S. Wineburg eds., Knowing, Teaching & Learning History: National and International Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 2000).

4 Paula Gangopadhyay, "Making History Relevant for School Audience," History Matters 22 no. 1(2010).

5 National Council for the Social Studies, "Creating effective citizenship," accessed January 16th, 2012,

6 World History for us All. "World History for Us All: Why Learn World History?," accessed August 12, 2012,

7 Marshall Hodgson, "Hemispheric Interregional History as an Approach to World History," in Ross E. Dunn, ed., The New World History: A Teacher's Companion (New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2000), 114.

8 Jerry Bentley, "Why Study World History," World History Connect 5 no. 1 (2007), para 2,21, accessed August 12, 2012,


9 Ross E. Dunn, "Growing Good Citizens with a World-center Curriculum," Education Leadership 60 no. 2 (2002), 10.

10 Susie Burroughs, Eric Groce, and Mary Lee Webeck, "Social Studies Education in the Age of Testing and Accountability," Educational Measurements: Issues and Practices 24 no. 2 (2005); Robert B. Bain and Tamara L. Shreiner, "The Dilemmas of a National Assessment in World History: World Historians and the 12 Grade NAEP," World History Connect 3 no. 3 (2005), para 6, accessed August 8, 2012 http://worldhistoryconnected.

11 Burroughs, Groce, & Webeck, "Age of Testing," 16. Deepa Srikantaiah, How State and Federal Accountability Policies Have Influenced Curriculum and Instruction in Three States: Common Findings from Rhode Island, Illinois, and Washington. (Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy, 2009). Wayne Au, "Social studies, W(h)ither the Social Studies in High-Stake Testing?" Teacher Education Quarterly 36 no. 1 (2009), 43-58.

12 John B. Diamond, "Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Rethinking the Connection Between High-Stakes Testing Policy and Classroom Instruction," Sociology of Education 80 no 4. (2007), p. 304. Laura S. Haliton, Brian M. Stecher, Jennifer Russell, Julie A. Marsh, & Jeremy N. V. Miles "Accountability and Teaching Practices: School-Level Action and Teachers Responses", in B. Fuller M. K. Henne, & E. Hannum, eds., Strong States, Weak Schools: The Benefits and Dilemmas of Centralized Accountability. (Bingley, UK : Emerald JAI, 2008), p. 60

13 Walter R. Mead, The State of World History Standards. (Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2006), accessed January 15, 2012.


14 Michael Marino and Jane Bolgatz, "Weaving a Fabric of World History? An Analysis of U.S. State High School World History Standards," Theory and Research in Social Education 38 no. 3 (2010), 372.

15 Marino and Bolgatz, "Weaving a Fabric," 387.

16 Ross E. Dunn, "The Two World Histories," Social Education 72 no. 2 (2008), 257.

17 Dunn, "World Histories," 257.

18 Dunn, "World Histories," 258.

19 Dunn, "World Histories," 260-261.

20 Samuel Wineberg, "Historical Problem Solving: A Study of the Cognitive Processes Used in the Evaluation of Documentary and Pictorial Evidence," Journal of Educaitonal Psychology 83 no. 1 (1991), 73-87. Elizabeth Anne Yeager and O. L. Davis, Jr. "Classroom Teachers' Thinking about Historical Text: An Exploratory Study," Theory and Research in Social Education 24 no.2 (1996), 146 – 166.

21 Walter Kintsch, Comprehension: A Paradigm for Cognition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 68.

22 Charles A. Weaver and Walter Kintsch, "Expository Text," in R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, and P. D. Person, eds., The Handbook of Reading Research, vol. 2 (White Plains, NT: Longman, 1991), 230. Judith Kamalski, Ted Sanders, and Leo Lentz, "Coherence Marking, Prior Knowledge, and Comprehension of Informative and Persuasive Texts: Sorting Things Out," Discourse Process: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 45 no. 4-5 (2008), 327. Carl F. Kaestle, Anne Campbell, Jeremy D. Finn, Sylvia T. Johnson, and Larry J. Mikulecky, Adult Literacy and Education in America (Jessup, MD: U.S. Department of Education, 2001), 3.

23 Elizabeth B. Moje, "Developing Socially Just Subject-matter Instruction: A Review of the Literacy on Disciplinary Literacy Teaching," Review of Research in Education 31 no. 1 (2007), 98. Mark W. Conley, "Cognitive Strategy Instruction for Adolescents: What We Know about the Promise, What We Don't Know about the Potential," Harvard Educational Review 78 no.1 (2008), 94

24 Moje, "Developing Socially", 11. Timothy Shanahan, "Disciplinary Comprehension," in Susan E. Israel and Gerald G. Duffy eds, Handbook of Research on Reading Comprehension (New York: Routledge, 2008), 241.

25 Peter Lee and Rosalyn Ashby, "Progression in Historical Understanding Among Students Ages 7-14," in P. Sterns, P. Seixas, & S. S. Wineburg eds., Knowing, Teaching & Learning History: National and International Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 2000). Richard J Paxton, "The Influence of Author Visibility on High School Students Solving a Historical Problem," Cognition and Instruction 20 no. 2 (2002).

26 Jeffery D. Nokes, Janice A Dole, and Douglas J. Hacker, "Teaching High School Studies to use Heuristics While Reading Historical Text," Journal of Education Psychology 99 no.3 (1989), 502.

27 Marino and Bolgatz, "Weaving a Fabric," 387.

28 Dunn, "World histories," 260-261.

29 Neil K. Duke, and Susan Bennett-Armistead, Reading & Writing Informational Text in the Primary Grades: Research Based Practices (New York: New York: Scholastic Teaching Resources, 2003), 17.

30 Conley, "Cognitive Strategy," 94.

31 Marino and Bolgatz, "Weaving a Fabric," 387.

32 Dunn, "World Histories," 258.

Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2014 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use